Thanks, dear readers, for the comments in reponse to the "Ask Me" post. Keep the suggestions coming!
Both books were a bit on the heavy and grim side, but very well done, well worth reading, and each one haunting in its own right.
The first one was a short debut novel by a young guy who teaches high school in Brooklyn by the name of Ian MacKenzie: City of Strangers. He's a new author for me, of course, but one that I will look for in the future. The book has the feel of a crime thriller and, at the same time, a literary novel about universals of love, loss, guilt, and ambiguity.
The very contemporary story takes place in New York City, and the atmosphere, the look, and the feel of the city function as an important character in the book. The plot involves two half-brothers, long-estranged from each other and from their single, silent male parent. Now they are dealing with the death of the father, a man once infamous for being an "American Nazi." The older brother, who converted to Judaism and married to a Jewish woman, is a hedge fund guy, with tons of money and drive, but who is facing anguish as his insider dealings are coming to trial. The much younger brother is a freelance writer, down on his luck, broke, and suffering horribly from a recent divorce. He happens upon two drunken brutes beating up a young Middle Eastern guy on the street, and this encounter is only the beginning of increasing complexity and violence. The context is tense, dangerous, brimming with the ethnic pressures of post-911 NYC. The prose is fluid, compelling, and suspenseful. The ending is terrifying and haunting.